How Can I Get My Kid to Stop Hitting?
A mother mentioned that her 1 1/2 year old has started hitting mommy and daddy when he’s upset. They have tried everything to get him to stop, but whatever they do seems to make him do it more.
This was my response.
It’s kind of long!
If you can get through it I’d love to hear what you think
Hitting is Not a Bad Thing
It might seem strange but when a child of that age is hitting like that it is not actually a bad thing that they are doing. They are exploring their bodies and yours. They are exploring cause and effect. This is hard for us as adults to understand because we have deep emotional connections to that kind of behaviour, and rightly so! It’s important that we don’t project our emotions and motivations onto them. Let us start out by assuming the best of our kids.
Understand Different Developmental Stages
Young children at that stage also tend to have a different relationship to empathy then we do! When you make a sad face it is not an automatic connection for them that you are sad and that they are causing that sadness. That is a connection that they will eventually learn over time but it’s not automatic.
Also young children deeply want validation and attention. This is the period of life where they are forming their self-image, who they are and what kind of person they are. The way we respond to them and to their choices largely determines how they end up seeing themselves.
What I have found works very well in situations like this is completely counter intuitive and definitely different from the norm (as with all my patenting ideas!)
Look at the Positive Side of Hitting
I recommend trying an experiment. Instead of reacting in ways that make it seem like hitting is wrong, look past the surface behaviour and see the exploration and the learning that is going on. Even look at the joy of the physical experience!
Try and see it from that perspective and then reflect that back to your child. For example when he hits you, try saying something like “wow you’re so strong that was a really good hit. It’s so interesting the way our bodies work in the way our hands work like that. There are so many things you can do with your body and hitting is one of them.” And then you can go around the house and hit all sorts of things the pillows the couches the walls and experiment and explore what it feels like. What this does is to normalize the experience of hitting.
Celebrate and Join in With Their Desires
This action has two results. Number one it takes away the specialness of when he hits you. If you can celebrate his desires and even join in then he won’t have the same need to hit you. It’s not such an exciting thing anymore because he gets a chance to express that part of himself, which is a completely valid and natural part of himself, in many different ways and even with your approval and celebration! It is no longer this thing that creates such an energy filled situation.
Number 2 result is it builds a deeper bond of trust and acceptance between the two of you. Because you are showing him the very empathy and acceptance that you are hoping that he will show you by not hitting you. It is this kind of modeling that will go much further towards him not hitting than any controlling action.
Acceptance is More Powerful Than Control
The reason for that is any controlling action, whether it is yelling or timeouts or removal of privileges or really anything of that nature, these actually validate the idea that hitting another person or harming another person is a good way to control them. Instead what you are showing is acceptance and love and celebration of who your son is.
Rewarding Bad Behaviour
Most people will say oh Vivek, you are rewarding bad behaviour and reinforcing it and it will just continue! Well realistically no other approach seems to work anyways! This deeper level of love, patience, acceptance and validation has a power in it that is rarely employed and has miraculous results.
Give this a try and see how it works for you. It will require a lot of patience and perseverance because it doesn’t make a change overnight. But it will make a change and your son will feel your love deeper than he even did before, and what a blessing that is!
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